Surprisingly, sitting in a chair is not that great for your health. It can affect you on many levels. It increases tightness in the hips, which leads to bad posture, headaches and premature aging. It also wreaks havoc on the digestive organs, contributing to all kinds of digestion and elimination problems. Breathing deeply, which is so important for healthy biological functioning as well as for staying alert, also becomes a challenge when you are sitting and slumping in a chair for extended periods.
But what can you do if your job requires you to sit at a desk for eight hours a day? Thankfully, there are some solutions. Many people are transitioning to alternative styles of desks.
The most popular is simply to replace the standard chair with a ball.
You might be familiar with these large rubber balls from gym classes, but used in an office they can help mitigate some of the aches you get from a regular chair. They help keep all the small muscles in your hips active by requiring micro-movements as you sit. Some of the balls come with a stand so they don’t roll. These are a good option if balance and stability are a problem. They give you a softer surface to sit on, which helps the sitting bones from getting sore. If you can do without a stand, the benefits increase as all the twitch muscles in the lower spine and hips will be working constantly, but subtly, to keep you balanced. This brings increased blood flow to the hips and legs, keeping you stronger and healthier.
Another alternative is a kneeling chair.
I used one of these for years in my office. It basically cants the body forward, so the weight isn’t directly on the spine and sitting bones, but is more on the shins. This can be helpful on the joints and hips especially, but after a time, you can still feel a spine compression if you aren’t attentive. Sitting in this kind of a chair allows you to sit with a more erect spine, but you still need to pay attention to your posture.
No matter what your office setup is, it is recommended that you get up once an hour to stretch and walk around, even if only for a few moments. This is extremely important for keeping your body healthy and your blood flowing. Also spend some time gazing into the distance to help minimize eye fatigue caused by staring at a computer screen.
One of the newest office setups is the standing desk. Just as it sounds, you stand in front of a specially heightened desk set up. My friend Jane Coffey, who is a development coordinator at Vermont Land Trust, just recently transitioned to a standing desk. Her workplace put in some money toward her new setup, which is frequently done by employers who want to maximize their workers' output and comfort. This is what she has to say about her new desk: “Transition was definitely easy for me since I am a very antsy/fidgety person! I could tell right away that my breathing while working was better, just being upright. I felt more awake during the times of the day that I usually felt tired or bored. It really works well for me.”
One of the problems with a standing desk is that your feet tend to get tired. In this case when you take a break, instead of walking around like the desk sitter should do, you could lie on your back with your legs up the wall (as in the yoga pose, viparita karani) to help the circulation in your legs and feet.
There isn't a single solution for everyone, and each position will have its pros and cons. Sitting still for eight hours a day can be very taxing on the body, so it’s worth checking out these options and seeing if your workplace would support a change.
Your body, and your boss, will thank you in the long run.